On Being Absorbed & The Double Life of Véronique

What do we see when we’re not looking? We say we are “lost in a trance.” Could we in fact be finding our way? In a series of interlocking scenes from the middle of his 1991 film The Double Life of Véronique, Krzysztof Kieślowski repeatedly shows one of his two conjoined heroines lost in thought: at a puppet show held for the entertainment of the children at the school where she teaches; in her classroom, as she gazes out the window while her students play a new piece of music; in her car, at a traffic light, where she absent-mindedly puts a cigarette in her mouth the wrong way round.

At each moment, her reverie is connected to the same man, a puppeteer who masterminds the show she and her students are so taken by. In the auditorium she stares at his reflection, seeing him pulling the strings. In the classroom, she looks out distractedly at his van in the courtyard of the school. In the car, she eventually sees him pulled up next to her at the light. In the last case, he interrupts her absorption, honking at her as she is about to light the cigarette before motioning to her with a twist of the wrist that she needs to turn it around.

He has saved the day, it seems; the lesson is that you need to turn things around, look at them, not differently, but the right way; you need to be brought out of your absorption. But what if the man is not the hero but the villain? What if he has destroyed something? What if the scarf that in an earlier scene trails along behind the woman as she walks through the corridor of the cardiology unit in the hospital, test results clasped to her chest—suggesting a different reason for absorption than romantic infatuation—is a sign not of absent-mindedness, even carelessness, but of strength, elegance?

Several weeks ago, I sat in on a workshop for some of the students at the school where I teach who hope to apply for distinguished scholarships, like the Fulbright or Rhodes. The facilitator–who was teaching essayistic writing without naming it as such–showed part of The Double Life of Véronique and gave the students ten minutes or so to write about it. Because I loved this movie when I was in college, I decided to take up the prompt, too, and recently found what I wrote when I was cleaning off my desktop. I thought it was interesting enough to post here, in the hopes that those of you who know the movie better than I do–or who have thoughts about being absorbed–can tell me what to write next.

2 thoughts on “On Being Absorbed & The Double Life of Véronique

  1. I’ve seen this movie at least three times and reading this made me immediately want to watch it again – it’s so great.

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